Taumarunui to Whangamomona North Island 18th April 2008
4 May 2008
Having bought fuel for the van we set off down SH 43, known as the Forgotten World Highway. Running between Taumarunui and Stratford and enveloped in some breathtaking countryside, the Heritage Trail named the Forgotten World Highway, takes tourists who travel along it, on a journey through NZ history and heritage. Forgotten is it’s name, but this route is really a journey of remembrance of determined settlers trying, and often failing, to scratch a living from the wild hill country.
This was NZ’s first Heritage Trail and each historic spot is highlighted by special signposts and notices telling the story. It can be driven in three hours, presumably in a car and missing a lot, but in a 7 meter motorhome and crossing four saddles (ridges of high land between two peaks) we were planning to do it in two days. We also wanted to spend a night in the Republic of Wanga’s Capital, Whangamomona, but more about that later.
As we left Taumarunui we passed by Herlihy’s Bluffs, a geologically interesting bluff of Mahoenui mudstone. Over the years these bluffs have caused the road people major headaches, the original road over the bluffs was at a higher level and very narrow. In 1963 the road was cut to its present level and instantly caused large rocks to fall dangerously onto the road. In November 1983 a young shepherd was killed when a rock hit the car he was traveling in. After this the road was moved further from the face and a mound built to intercept any falling rocks. Notices are now along the road advising people not to stop and once beyond the bluff we pulled over to take some photos.
The road travels to the north of Whanganui National Park and a number of roads and tracks lead off into it. We also passed historical river boat landings, from the times when regular paddle steamers plied the waters here landing cargos of settlers, livestock and provisions. With the coming of the railway, a number of tunnels were built through the hills and walking tracks take you to these sites. We did not have the time to do any walking as we needed to be at our destination before dark. Soon we began to climb up into the hills and at the top there was a stopping spot and a short walk to Nevins Lookout. On looking at our map we realised this was not one of the four saddles we would have to cross on our journey, but an extra hill thrown in for good luck. We did walk the short distance to the lookout and got some good views, considering it was in the late afternoon.
Soon we arrived at our destination for the evening, the Republic of Wanga and the capital city of Whangamomona. Established in 1895, Whangamomona was a thriving township servicing the local farming community, road and railway workers. The township consisted of a hotel, thirty shops, several churches, the Whangamomona City Council Offices and a police station. Over time the population declined and in 1960’s the loss of services to the village hastened the decline. In the 1980’s the village was placed on NZ’s Heritage List and there it might have stayed if local government reorganization had not interfered.
In 1988 local councils sought to move the township from the Taranaki Region to the Manawatu Region. As if this was not bad enough it meant locals would have to play in the rival rugby leagues. On November 1st Whangamomona declared itself a republic for the day issuing passports and visas and charging a toll to all motorists passing through the village. This was obviously a successful campaign as the council backed down leaving the village in Taranaki. In January every second year (the next date will be 2009) the small communities population rises to 5,000, when trains bring in lots of Aucklander's to celebrate Republic Day. Activities such as sheep racing, possum skinning, gutbuster races and drinking the local brew are on offer during the day.
Presidential elections are held and the first President served for 10 years before retiring. ‘Billy the Kid’ only survived for 18 months but he did die on active duty – weedeating on the town hillside. Following this tragedy Tai the poodle was elected in 2003 but after 12 months there was an assassination attempt on his life leaving him in a nervous condition. The last election was hotly contested by Miriam and Murt with Murt winning. There was an accusation by Miriam that some jiggery pokey went on, and according to our sources this was the case. We were told that if Miriam, the male cross dresser, had been elected they would have been the laughing stock of NZ. The 18th year of Independence was celebrated last January.
Today there was no one in the border patrol box (an old dunney) so we were able to slink in with no problems. We called at the hotel to enquire about the camp site and sample some of the wares. This hotel won the Best Country Hotel Award in 2005. We were made welcome by the locals and got talking to them about the area and raised our concerns about our NZ visa requirements. If we leave NZ before September 15th our visa ceases, so now we are in the republic how would this affect us. Most seemed surprised we would want to return to NZ and not remain there. Perhaps that is something to think about.
It was now early evening and we would have to find the campsite in the dark, it was not too far away so once we had set the van up we returned to have tea at the hotel. After reading the menu on our first visit we had been tempted, we also hoped we might be able to have a drink with the president, who lives across the road. Tonight was not one of the nights he visited the hotel, so we had to be content to view the Presidents Regalia in the display cabinet. It was interesting talking to the local farmers and hear from them first hand the problems they are experiencing.
Recently dairy products have risen greatly in price and cheese is now becoming a luxury item. Many farmers are moving from sheep farming to dairy farming as there is more money in this area. Most of the produce is exported overseas, mainly to China, and sheep farming is now not profitable. One farmer told us it costs him $50 to raise a lamb and he gets less than that at sales. The drought has not helped them either as they have had to by in fodder much earlier this year.
After a pleasant evening we wandered back down the road to our home and once again we had a campsite to ourselves.